lascia Ch’io Pianga
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes a gentle aria that requires a subtle approach to melody, taken from Handel’s opera, Rinaldo.
In this instalment of our classical guitar series we tackle a work by one of the greatest composers in the history of Western Art music, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Born in the same year as both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti (a good year for music!), Handel’s long and productive career – mainly based in London – would leave an indelible print on the development of concert and opera music. As is not always so with the great composers, Handel was both critically acclaimed and successful during his lifetime, and admired by composers as esteemed as Bach who claimed that Handel, “understood affect better than any of us”. Beethoven said he was, “the master of us all” and the “greatest composer who ever lived” and advised composers to “go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means”.
On his death in 1789, Handel was given full state honours and buried in Westminster Abbey. By this time, Handel’s list of outputs was so vast that it’s a job in itself to catalogue them all, compromising a staggering 42 operas, 29 oratorios, over 120 cantatas, 84 hymns, 56 concertos, 23 concerti grossi and hundreds of other orchestral works, songs and instrumental pieces for a range of ensembles. Among these, the Messiah (and its Hallelujah chorus) is one of the most famous choral works of all time; and his Water Music, and Music For The Royal Fireworks are staple works in British music culture.
In this article, I’ve arranged his stunningly beautiful soprano aria Lascia Ch’io Pianga, best known from his 1711 opera Rinaldo (although this was in fact the fourth use of this melody in Handel’s works, which originally appeared in the opera Almira). The aria is sung by the character Almirena in Act 2 of Rinaldo as she mourns her imprisonment by the sorceress Armida. In this exquisite melody, we can hear the “mastery of great effect through simple means”, of which Beethoven speaks. The rhythmically simple melody in 3/2 coincides with chordal blocks, and so fits quite elegantly on the guitar (although I’ve transposed it from E to A Major). As such, this is not the most challenging piece of the series, although you will need a level of fluency to capture the delicate magic of Handel’s melody.
BEETHOVEN SAID OF HANDEL: “HE WAS THE MASTER OF US ALL” AND, “THE GREATEST COMPOSER WHO EVER LIVED”